Three Disciple Making Definitions

Disciple making is more art than science. It’s a process that rests on principles that adapt to each setting. It can’t be pinned down by just one definition or program. Each discipler brings his own set of strengths and weaknesses. Each disciple has their own obstacles and limitations.

As a result, having a set of disciple making definitions helps provide both clarity and a sense of direction. Like cars that kids drive at an amusement park, the rail in the middle provides both control and freedom. A set of key definitions act as a rail that allows for latitude and safety.

I have three definitions that I carry around with me. Each one reminds me of at least one unique but vital part of disciple making. I frequently share these in my ministry as a reminder of what we’re called to do and how we must do it. In that way, each one speaks uniquely about something the discipler must keep in mind to accomplish the task. What’s the task? To develop others who are following Jesus to become like Jesus, to reproduce other disciples who are deeply in love with Christ.

Here are my top three disciple making definitions:

1. Friendship with a vision. Disciple making must be relational. The relational connection is the foundation that the rest of disciple making is built upon. While friendship is vitally important, disciple making is more than friendship. In addition to friendship, there must be vision and movement to make that vision a reality. To disciple someone, I must have clarity about who this person is now and vision for who God is helping them to become.

As an experienced discipler, I know that God is calling us all to become like Jesus—to become a disciple maker. Since I’ve discipled others, I know how to help someone become a disciple maker. At the same time, each person is unique, so the journey and our experience on the journey will be new to me and special. I know that along the way we’ll struggle at times, thrive at others, and when we arrive we’ll both be changed.

I love this definition because it hits both the relational and intentional part of disciple making. Friendship keeps us together when the journey gets tough and brings lots of enjoyment when things are going well. Vision keeps us focused on moving forward towards the calling that God has placed on our lives.

2. Personal Spiritual Training – Lots of people have a physical trainer, right? Have you ever considered the impact that a spiritual trainer could have on your life? Disciple making is like being a personal spiritual trainer for another who is seeking to grow in their spiritual fitness.

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Would you hire a woefully out of shape physical trainer? I wouldn’t either. This definition helps us remember the value of the discipler being in shape. You must be a disciple before seeking to help another. You are their model. You are the one they look at when they envision themselves in shape. In other words, you are the incarnation of what they hope to become. Do you feel the weight of responsibility to make sure you’re healthy spiritually? Great, but be sure to balance that with God’s grace!

On the other hand, the analogy of disciple making as spiritual training helps the person being discipled. Your discipler cares about you, but there’s a greater purpose of being together than just feeling loved and supported. That purpose is your spiritual growth. That purpose makes it okay to not always enjoy your time together. In fact, when you go to a personal trainer you may not want to go because you know you’ll have to work in ways that aren’t comfortable or even enjoyable, but you go because of the result, not because the process is fun. And when you walk away you feel good about the work that you’ve done.

I love this definition because it helps both sides understand the necessity to act. The growth will follow the actions of obedience, not new understandings or an enjoyable friendship.

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3. Passing Your Relationship with God on to Another – This is my currently my favorite definition of disciple making. At its core, when all is said and done, the task of the discipler is to help someone else fall in love with Jesus and to orient their lives around Him. The goal isn’t to pass on tools for Bible reflection, prayer, or even impacting others- it’s to help him encounter Christ in a way that forever changes him.  

The discipler is the example. He’s not talking about what he knows but WHO he knows. The goal isn’t education/information- it’s application with the hope of transformation. God is the one who transforms, not a discipler, tools, or a program.

For the disciple, this definition helps focus their sights on Christ as He is revealed in the life of the discipler. He is to imitate the discipler, but if he wants to skip the step of imitating the discipler and just imitate Christ that’s great. As I mentioned in the last definition, the discipler is Christ incarnate. Jesus’ life and priorities firmly set the direction and culture of our disciple making relationship. This is a great help to the disciple and a great challenge to the discipler.

What disciple making definitions have you heard? Which ones help you maintain clarity on the task Jesus has given to His followers?